A New Meaning to an Old Word

Two local moms are redefining what it means to show bravery by opening up the conversation about mental illness.

Two local moms are redefining what it means to show bravery by opening up the conversation about mental illness. –Shelby Robinson

This Is My Brave
Photo by Mollie Tobias.

Jennifer Marshall remembers when she was first diagnosed in 2006 with bipolar disorder, she and her family didn’t know anything about the mental illness. It was an unnerving time as Marshall had to be hospitalized. It took Marshall some time to come to terms with her illness, and she opened up through her blog bipolarmomlife.com. “I was using a pen name and didn’t want to put my real name on [my writing] but when I got my first paid writing job, I decided that this is my story and I want to be recognized for it.”

Sharing her story has helped Marshall and she is now encouraging others to share their stories through the inaugural show “This is My Brave.” The show will feature performers, varying in ages, that depict scenarios in which they have dealt with mental illness directly or with the mental illness of a loved one. The production explores stories of a mother dealing with postpartum psychosis, a young woman and a 16-year old’s struggles with anxiety and depression and a writer’s battle with bipolar disorder. Performers will make use of a variety of mediums—essays, stories, folk song, rap—to express their experience. “A lot of people who live with mental illness are very, very creative,” says Marshall. “We really wanted that to shine through and allow them to showcase their stories in whichever way they felt most comfortable.”

Marshall, an Ashburn resident, developed the concept after attending a show, “Listen to Your Mother,” that focused on non-actors sharing their stories about motherhood. In August of last year she met Anne Marie Ames at a party, and Ames immediately jumped on board as associate producer. She had been reading Marshall’s blog and immediately recognized her as “the bipolar mom.” Three months later, they had successfully funded the show through a Kickstarter campaign.

Ames says her biggest motivation for joining the show has been her struggle to advocate for her son through his depression. Much like Marshall, Ames did not see herself standing against the stigma in such a public way but her experiences with her son showed her that something has to change. “There are so many people out there who live with [mental illness] and yet people are still scared to talk about it,” says Marshall. It is through this simplicity of sharing stories, says Ames, that brought life to the show.

The future for “This is My Brave” has been carefully planned. Marshall says, “We have initiatives over the next year or two to go into the schools with mini-shows, throughout [Loudoun] County, then to Fairfax County Schools.” They also want to start a YouTube channel and are hoping to help others put on similar shows every year in May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month.

“This Is My Brave”
Sunday, May 18, 3 p.m.
Artisphere’s Spectrum Theatre
1611 N. Kent St., Arlington, 22209; 703-875-1100
Tickets $15

(May 2014)